Characteristics of microplastic polymer-derived dissolved organic matter and its potential as a disinfection byproduct precursor

Lee, Y. K.; Romera-Castillo, C.; Hong, S.; Hur, J.
Water Research
Although there are numerous studies concerning the occurrence of microplastics (MP) in the environment and its impact on the ecosystem, dissolved organic matter (DOM) leached from MP (MP-DOM) has received little attention, and its characteristics have been rarely examined. It is presumed that the DOM leaching from plastics could be accelerated when plastics lost their protective additives during their transport and weathering processes in aquatic systems. In this study, two additive-free MPs (or micro-sized plastic polymers) were leached in artificial freshwater under UV irradiation and dark conditions. The leached DOM was characterized by typical analyses for naturally occurring DOM (N-DOM) such as dissolved organic carbon (DOC), size exclusion chromatography (SEC), and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). The potential to generate trihalomethanes (THMs), a well-known environmental impact of N-DOM, was also explored for the DOM with plastic origins for the first time. The leaching results demonstrated that UV irradiation promoted the leaching of DOM from the plastic polymers with an amount corresponding to ∼3% of the total mass of the polymers. The leached amounts were much greater than those previously reported using commercial plastics which presumably contained protective additives. The SEC results revealed that, different from typical aquatic N-DOM, MP-DOM is mostly composed of low molecular weight fractions
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